By Johanne Adam
For the first time in the University of Ottawa’s history, a research team will conduct a study in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency. Led by Dr. Guy Trudel and Professor Odette Laneuville from the Ottawa Bone and Joint Research Laboratory (BJRL) at the University of Ottawa, the MARROW study will focus on astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS). This project is undertaken with the financial support of the Canadian Space Agency.
MARROW is the short for the project title, “Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red or White?” The study focuses on the biology of rehabilitation, more specifically on the impact of long-term microgravity exposure on bone marrow content and activity.
“When the human body is subjected to long-term bed rest or decreased mobility, thus exposing the bone to less mechanical loading, fat content in bone marrow increases. This affects the ability to generate new blood cells, including red and white blood cells,” said Laneuville, a biology professor at the Faculty of Science and an expert in the biology of rehabilitation.
A decrease in red blood cells, known as anemia, may result in physical limitations such as weakness or fatigue, and cognitive slowing. Longstanding anemia is linked to lower quality of life and early mortality. The main function of white blood cells is to defend against infections. Malfunctioning white blood cells may predispose one to severe infections and increase sensitivity to cosmic radiation.
The astronauts’ prolonged involvement will allow for the longitudinal study of the accumulation of bone marrow fat after living in microgravity. Using non-invasive measures, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the marrow of the astronauts’ vertebral bones before and after flight, as well as blood, breath and stool samples, bone marrow fat and blood cells survival and function will be measured.
“Findings in astronauts will provide unique insight into the basic mechanisms behind the effects of immobility, which in turn may lead directly to exploring physical countermeasures or new drugs for prevention and treatment,” said Dr. Trudel, an expert on immobility, a clinician/researcher in uOttawa’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and BJRL director.
Back on Earth, the research results will be beneficial to people suffering from decreased mobility, the elderly or hospital patients exposed to long durations of bed rest by guiding their rehabilitation.